May 2020 Issue
SPAN Parent Leadership E-News
Dear Parent Leaders,

This quarterly newsletter is designed to empower, engage, and support individuals like you who passionately represent the needs and perspectives of all parents. Parent leaders become role models for family engagement, advocating not only on behalf of their own children, but for ALL children! 

During these difficult and ever-changing times that we are going through right now due to the COVID-19 crisis, it is especially important to remind ourselves that growth and improvement are impossible without change, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient it might be. Embrace it, own it, and be it – BE THE CHANGE you want to see happen for all children and families in your community, state, and in our nation. Your individual contribution to making a difference and creating a positive change may seem small but combined with many collective efforts, we can make a huge difference! When we work together, it can be our “finest hour” for redefining family-school-community collaborative partnerships!

~ START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities in Schools (START-EPSD) Project Team
Upcoming Virtual Networking Meetings
START-EPSD Project invites parent leaders, advocates, school professionals, local agency representatives, and community members to participate in the virtual networking meetings.

These networking meetings encourage mutual learning and information sharing to expand connections as well as to enhance skills and knowledge of parents, school staff, and community partners to work together to improve outcomes for all children, and particularly for children with disabilities.

Strategies for starting and developing effective Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs) and other advocacy groups will be discussed. 

Cape May County
Date:  Thursday, May 21, 2020
Time:  2:00 PM-3:30 PM
Location:  Virtual Meeting

Camden County
Date:  Thursday, May 21, 2020
Time:  6:30 PM-8:00 PM
Location:  Virtual Meeting

Gloucester County
Date:  Thursday, May 28, 2020
Time:  6:30 PM-8:00 PM
Location:  Virtual Meeting

Salem County
Date:  Thursday, June 4, 2020
Time:  6:30 PM-8:00 PM
Location:  Virtual Meeting

For more information, contact a Parent Groups Specialist in your region or Tatsiana DaGrosa, Project Co-Director, at
for Your Leadership Toolbox
Quick Guide "Best Practices for Ensuring Collaboration Between Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs) and Boards of Education (BOEs)"
A SEPAG gives families the opportunity to provide direct input to their school district about policies, programs, and practices that impact students with disabilities. At the same time, a strong partnership between SEPAGs and BOEs is important for developing and maintaining meaningful family engagement in schools. Together SEPAGs and BOEs can make a positive difference in improving special education programs and services for students with disabilities and their families.

Here are some best practices for consideration when ensuring collaboration between SEPAGs and BOEs.  Download (in English and Spanish)
Quick Guide " How Can Parent Groups Use Technology to Strengthen Family Engagement? "
The increased use of technology by families in their everyday lives creates a new opportunity for parent groups to use a variety of digital tools to outreach to, gather input from, and engage with more families of children receiving special education and related services. Effective use of technology can strengthen family engagement. It can also strengthen group’s impact. Download (in English and Spanish)

*All Quick Guides are available in English and Spanish. Download them ALL:

Parent Group Highlights
Jefferson Township SEPAG - Morris County
Jefferson Township is the northern-most township in Morris County, New Jersey. Living in Jefferson Township offers residents a rural feel . The Jefferson Township Public Schools serve students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The district’s Department of Special Services is committed to parental involvement and consider it a vital factor in the provision of supportive services. With this in mind, the Department of Special Services has partnered with district parents and SPAN’s START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities (START-EPSD) Project to create a Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG) for the Jefferson Township School District.

Families of students with special needs in Jefferson Township have shared that resources, parent information and education are very limited in their part of the state.  A group of committed parents not only made it their priority to assist in the creation of a SEPAG but also answered the call to ensure that families in Jefferson Township and surrounding areas have access to information, resources, support, and advocacy assistance . By collaborating with both the START-EPSD Project, SPAN’s Training Department, and Parents as Champions for Healthy Schools, Jefferson Township SEPAG provided regional, county, and district workshops , roundtables, and parent leadership opportunities. 

Monique Dujue Wison, Parent Group Specialist (PGS) for Morris County on the START-EPSD Project, provided guidance by holding initial meetings with start-up leaders to review components of effective groups outlined in the SEPAG Guide , both in person and virtually. The PGS assisted the group in identifying future technical assistance and training needs based on the input from all families in the Jefferson Township school district.

Jefferson Township SEPAG is working together with the district in the role of advisors to help shape programs and policies to improve student achievement not only for students with disabilities but for all children. Furthermore, Jefferson Township parents are developing into leaders, advocates, advisors, health champions, resource parents and trainers . They are Empowered, Engaged, Educated, and Effective in the northernmost township in Morris County. 

For more information or to join Jefferson Township SEPAG, please
email the at , visit them on Facebook and read their SEPAG Pamphlet
Hammonton, Folsom and Waterford SEPAG

Would you like to be involved in making recommendations on special education policy? 

Do you want to have a voice in the policies, programs, and practices that impact services and supports for children with disabilities and their families?   

Then you came to the right place . The communities of Hammonton, Waterford and Folsom are committed to providing quality programs for students receiving special education services . The three local school districts and their families work together to improve policies, programs, and practices to ensure students who are receiving special education services have the opportunity to progress and become productive citizens of our community. 

In collaboration with Sharon DeNafo, Supervisor of Special Services, Ashley Power, Waterford Assistant Principal, Amanda Petersen, Folsom Chairperson of the Child Study Team, the Hammonton SEPAG is led by Jessica Comunale, a parent . A year and a half ago, Ms. Comunale attended a workshop “Starting and Running an Effective SEPAG” presented by Michele Tyler from the START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities (START-EPSD) Project. Afterwards she connected with Tatsiana DaGrosa, the Parent Group Specialist in her region, for additional support and guidance to form a SEPAG. During the next few months, the group explored resources on creating Collaborative Action Teams and Serving on Groups webinar series to develop a mission statement, identify and prioritize issues, set goals, and communicate group’s message to the school community .

Ms. Comunale received additional help from many parents and school staff who used their unique strengths and creative ways to support the group. For example, Denise Long, an elementary teacher, applied for a grant through the Hammonton Education Association designed to help promote collaboration between the school and the community. This mutual partnership allowed the group to offer refreshments to parents and staff at the SEPAG meetings this year. In addition, Stacey Delaurentis, a parent member, helped with planning and organizing SEPAG meetings as well as volunteered to help update the SEPAG Facebook page throughout the year. 

Ms. Comunale also networked with another parent leader of a local SEPAG who mentored her and provided helpful information. During the first year, the group held several public meetings which included parent-only SEPAG meetings, presentations, and public forums.

In response to the needs identified by families and the districts , the SEPAG hosted trainings on Person-Centered Approaches in Schools and Transition (PCAST), SEPAG Guide, and Dyslexia. The group is inclusive and welcomes parents and educators from all over the county to attend their workshops and learn alongside with their families.

The group created a stand-alone Hammonton SEPAG website where families can find the SEPAG meeting calendar , ask questions, and find valuable resources. Presently, Hammonton SEPAG provides regular updates on COVID-19 information and resources, including links to

The Hammonton SEPAG welcomes families of children with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a 504 Plan, or any parent who has questions about academic accommodations and supports for their child. 

To contact Hammonton SEPAG , please email Jessica Comunale, Parent Lead, at or visit Hammonton SEPAG webpage  and Facebook page 
Willingboro Township SEPAG
Willingboro School District is in the heart of the Delaware Valley, in Burlington county. Although the group has existed for several years, the Willingboro Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG) grew its strength and reached new heights this year under new parent leadership , partnership with the new director of Special Services and assistance from Michele Tyler, Parent Group Specialist on the START-EPSD Project at SPAN.  

The number one goal of the Willingboro SEPAG was to connect with more parents and work with the school district to address systemic challenges . Although members of the SEPAG are usually parents of children with special needs, the Willingboro SEPAG members decided to broaden their outreach and include ALL interested and committed Willingboro residents to make a greater impact. The group wanted to ensure that input was obtained from anyone concerned about children with special needs. This decision was a game changer for the SEPAG!

The 2019-2020 school year was the most successful year for the Willingboro SEPAG. The newly formed partnership with PTA members as well as the support of Mr. Burgess and Ms. Moore, the principal and vice principal at Hawthorne Elementary school, have strengthened and increased parent involvement in the group.  Led by parent leaders , Ms. Brown, Ms. Hose, Ms. Maxwell-Henley and Ms. Montague, the Willingboro SEPAG decided to address three main issues related to special education in Willingboro Township. The SEPAG and the director of Special Services , Dr. Alegria, worked together to address two of these issues before COVID-19 caused the extended school closure. Specifically, the school district provided district-wide trainings for staff and parents, including training on trauma-informed care and mental health. Furthermore, the SEPAG began to create an improved process for two-way communication between the school district and families, especially with families who have children with special needs. 

Incorporating materials from Serving on Groups training series and Leading by Convening: A Blueprint for Authentic Engagement , the Willingboro SEPAG also created a vision statement, a SEPAG email address, the SEPAG for Willingboro Facebook page, and a parent survey. 

The vision of the Willingboro SEPAG is

“To empower and support families to raise ALL children to reach their full potential”

Finally, knowing how important the voice of families of children with special needs is when making policy decisions , one of the parent leaders, Ms. Maxwell-Henley, ran for the Willingboro Board of Education and won! She said in a statement that she wanted to change the narrative about labeling our students. It's not always a bad thing: If our students cannot read or write then provide them the resources and tools needed to thrive. Don't continue pushing them onto the next grade level without helping them master the skill sets they need to be successful. It does the students a disservice.

In the nearest future, the Willingboro SEPAG plans to create a SEPAG brochure and SEPAG website.

Willingboro Township residents interested in joining the SEPAG should email
SURVEY: " How Can Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs) Engage Families to Support Learning for ALL Students? "
A local Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG) gives parents the opportunity to provide direct input to their school district about policies, programs, practices, and services that have an impact on students with disabilities and their families.

An effective SEPAG can also increase the proactive engagement of families of struggling learners and/or those with social-emotional, behavioral and chronic healthcare needs by inviting input that can be used to improve educational outcomes and well-being for ALL students. In addition, an active SEPAG can help foster partnership and collaboration between families, schools, and the community on the local as well as state level.

Please answer this brief survey to share your SEPAG’s influence and expertise in partnering with the local school community that has the potential to improve outcomes for ALL students. 

Link to the SEPAG Partnerships Survey in English and Survey in Spanish

Parent and district leaders can learn how to initiate and sustain an effective SEPAG in the downloadable NJ's   SEPAG Guide in English   and  SEPAG Guide in Spanish .
SPECIAL EDITION: Individualized Education Program (IEP) Resources
Education-Related Acronyms:  This list includes most frequently used education-related acronyms. English:  PDF  | Español:  PDF

Special Education Delivery Cycle:  Use this chart to learn the steps and timelines for special education delivery cycle. English:  PDF  | Español:  PDF

Classification Chart:  This chart includes classification categories for special education eligibility. English:  PDF  | Español:  PDF

Positive Student Profile:  Use this template to organize information about your child’s strengths, challenges, goals, needs, and successes of your child. English:  PDF  | Español:  PDF

All About Me:  This tool encourages asking questions about student’s strengths/interests, challenges/concerns, and activities with the focus to prepare them for the transition into adult life. English:  PDF  | Español:  PDF

Sample Letter Requesting an Evaluation and Sample Letter Requesting an Independent Evaluation:  Use this sample letter as a guide to write your own letters requesting an evaluation/independent evaluation. English:  PDF  | Español:  PDF

Parent Involvement in the IEP Process:  Use this checklist to guide you as you prepare for the IEP meeting, participate in the IEP meeting, and keep involved after the IEP meeting. English:  PDF  | Español:  PDF

Preparing for the IEP Meeting:  This collection of tools provides the IEP team members (parents, educators, and students) with guiding questions to prepare for the collaborative IEP development and implementation. English:  PDF  | Español:  PDF

Communication Strategies:  This chart explains various communication strategies the IEP teams can use to facilitate effective meetings. English:  PDF  | Español:  PDF

Establishing a Collaborative Team:  This document offers specific examples for collaboration the IEP members can use to promote trust, teamwork, and partnerships. English:  PDF  | Español:  PDF
Save The Dates for Family Literacy Support During COVID-19
Webinar Series
"Maintaining Skills at Home"
Date: Tuesday, July 1, 2020 at 2 PM

"Planning for Reopening and Recovery"
Date: Tuesday, August 11, 2020 at 2 PM

Parents of children in grades preK-5 will benefit from this webinar series.

For more information, contact Debbie at or (201) 873-6473
SPAN's Virtual Learning Opportunities
Can't have an in-person training due to COVID-19 pandemic?

No problem! Browse our Video & Webinar Archive and subscribe to SPAN YouTube Channel for information on special and general education, health advocacy, parent leadership, public policy, and much more.
START-EPSD Project Archived Webinars
“Closing the Gap! Early Reading Interventions Utilizing New Jersey Tiered System of Supports (NJTSS)”

This webinar offers a brief overview of the NJTSS and a presentation from the NJ Department of Education about the NJTSS Early Reading Grant, specifically how districts are engaging families at school and at home. The webinar also provides strategies and resources on how to improve reading skills for struggling readers, including students with disabilities, who require additional interventions.

"Positive School Climate"

This webinar discusses how school climate can impact inclusive opportunities in schools and create positive outcomes for ALL students. 

Strength in Numbers: NJ Census 2020
Do you know why the 2020 Census matters?
Do you know how participating can help your community?

It’s very important for New Jersey that every resident gets counted, regardless of age or immigration status. Our Congressional representation depends on it. Over $1 trillion in Federal funding is allocated nationally based wholly or in part on Census counts , including almost $46 billion for New Jersey in FY2017, including about $12 billion for Medicare and Medicaid , $1.6 billion for transportation , and more than $350 million for school breakfast and lunch programs . Let's make sure that New Jersey gets its fair share by achieving a complete count of all our residents!


  • Ask everyone to fill out their Census forms. It’s safe, easy, confidential – and very important. Census responses will not be shared with anyone, even other government agencies, such as police, FBI, courts, or immigration officials. Count everyone living in your household on April 1 – including grandparents, tenants, roommates, live-in nannies, and newborn babies who haven’t yet come home. 

  • There’s still time to fill it out! If someone says – “I thought the Census was over on April 1st” – Tell them that April 1st was Census Day, and it was just the beginning. Not the end.

Fill Out Your Census Online at

Fill Out Your Census By Phone, Toll-free Phone Numbers:
English: 844-330-2020
Spanish: 844-468-2020
Chinese (Mandarin): 844-391-2020
Chinese (Cantonese): 844-398-2020
Vietnamese: 844-461-2020
Korean: 844-392-2020
Russian: 844-417-2020
Arabic: 844-416-2020
Tagalog: 844-478-2020
Polish: 844-479-2020
French: 844-494-2020
Haitian Creole: 844-477-2020
Portuguese: 844-474-2020
Japanese: 844-460-2020
English (Puerto Rico residents): 844-418-2020
Spanish (Puerto Rico residents): 844-426-2020
Telephone Display Device (TDD): 844-467-2020

Add a "We Count" or "I Count" frame to your Facebook profile picture.  
Here are the links:     We Count        I Count
  1. On your phone or desktop, go to your Facebook profile page.
  2. On your desktop, when you rest your mouse on your profile picture, you should see a camera icon and the word “Update.” On mobile, you should see a little camera icon next to your profile picture. Click the camera icon. On mobile, you will then need to click “Add Frame.”
  3. Several frame options will appear, but if you don’t see an NJCensus2020 frame, search “NJ Census” and both options should appear.
  4. Choose whichever frame you like, and Facebook will guide you through the process of adding the frame to your profile picture (i.e. sizing, placement and saving).

#CensusSelfie #FillitOut
SPAN Parent Advocacy Network - Our Vision  is that all families will have the resources and support they need to ensure that their children become fully participating and contributing members of our communities and society.  Our Mission i s to empower and support families and inform and involve professionals interested in the healthy development and education of children and youth. Our foremost commitment is to children and families with the greatest need due to disability or special health/mental health needs; poverty; discrimination based on race, sex, language, immigrant or homeless status; involvement in the foster care, child welfare, or juvenile justice systems; geographic location; or other special circumstances.  Our Motto is, "Empowered Parents: Educated, Engaged, Effective!"
SPAN Parent Advocacy Network | 35 Halsey Street, Newark, NJ | 1-800-654-SPAN